By Hannah Johnson
The fifth Books in Browsers conference for web developers and designers working in publishing kicked off on Thursday, with speakers addressing data, privacy, libraries, EPUB, HTML and more. Despite the diversity of presentations, many speakers came back to the pressing need for standards, common ways to present and format digital content, whether it is an ebook or on the web.
In his talk about the “Histories of Cooperative Innovation,” Matthew Battles, metaLAB at Harvard and Berkman Center for Internet and Society, said that standards are important because they allow innovators and entrepreneurs to work independently (separated by geography and time) but toward similar goals.
Currently, ebooks come in many shapes and sizes, and while there are organizations like W3C and IDPF working to refine standards for both “portable files” and web content, there is no general consensus on how to best to create and display content across various formats.
Tzviya Siegman, Digital Book Standards & Capabilities Lead at Wiley, said that when writing specs and creating ebooks, standards and templates save a lot of time. She also spoke about how simplifying standards, particularly for education content (EDUPUB) and math (MathML), standardization will pave the way to making the content easier to display and consume online and in downloadable files.
On the other side of the argument, Peter Armstrong from Leanpub told the audience that the lack of a standard can also be a good thing. In the case of Markdown, there is no standard, but plenty of options and extensions. The wonderful thing about Markdown is that these various extensions can address the needs of many people and types of content — one of these extensions is Armstrong’s own Markua, “a superset of Markdown” that generates ebook formats.